Rediscovery of a rare painting by Toulouse-Lautrec depicting hospital life

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Rediscovery of a rare painting by Toulouse-Lautrec depicting hospital life
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Une opération du Docteur Péan à l’Hôpital International, 1891. Essence on card. Estimate: 600 000 - 900 000 €.

PARIS.- On 29 June 2021, as part of its major Impressionist & Modern Art sales, Artcurial will present a rare masterpiece by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) entitled Une opération par le Docteur Péan à l’Hôpital International. The painting, in essence (oil thinned with turpentine) on card, is estimated to fetch between 600 000 and 900 000 €.

This work is exceptional for several reasons. Painted in 1891, it was given the same year to Frédéric Baumgarten, the artist’s doctor, who appears facing us at the back of the composition, and has been in the hands of the same family ever since. Exhibited just once in 1914, this is a major rediscovery.

The work is also unique for its subject matter, depicting a surgical operation in a Parisian hospital at the end of the 19th century. Toulouse-Lautrec is better known for his representations of cabarets, brothels, Parisian streets and horses. There are only two other known paintings of hospital scenes in the oeuvre of Toulouse-Lautrec: the portrait of Docteur Péan in Une opération de trachéotomie of 1891, today in the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, US, and Examen à la faculté de médecin de Paris, 1901, in the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec in Albi. This painting is therefore the only one of this subject matter still in private hands today. Very few artists of that period drew or painted hospital scenes. Thanks to his doctor Frédéric Baumgarten, and Doctor Péan, a renowned surgeon known to him, Toulouse-Lautrec was given permission to attend an operation.

Painted in an accomplished style, it is very representative of the art of Toulouse Lautrec, with animated brushstrokes, a colourful palette and his unique way of capturing a moment in time, depicting the scene as it unfolds in front of our eyes.

Works of this quality rarely appear on the market in France; not since the 1990s has there been such an accomplished painting by the artist for sale in Paris.

« The exceptional quality of this painting, its subject and its history qualifies this as one of Toulouse-Lautrec’s most unique works of art. It is, without any doubt, one of the most important by the artist to appear on the Parisian market for many years. » Bruno Jaubert Director, Impressionist & Modern Art, Artcurial

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: painter of Parisian dances, acquainted with hospital life
When Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted this piece in 1891, he was 27 years old. The hospital environment was familiar to him as, from a very young age, he suffered from many different health conditions. From the age of ten, a genetic disease affected his bones and retarded his growth. Following an accident, he stopped growing at the height of 1.52 metres.

In 1891, he remained under the care of his doctor Frédéric Baumgarten and was also acquainted with Doctor Péan, a renowned surgeon at that time, whose operations he was allowed to attend, sketching the proceedings live.

This was rather surprising subject matter for the painter of Parisian high life and the Moulin Rouge.

On that day in 1891, he completed this piece in the midst of the operating room. He offered it to his doctor, in recognition of his work and as a tribute to the medical profession.

The depth of the painting is fascinating. In the foreground we see the back of a nurse who accompanies a patient lying on a stretcher.

Behind this, the operation is taking place with, in the centre, Doctor Péan, in black, seen from behind leaning over his patient, in the middle of operating.

There is a nurse to his right, and an assistant to his left handing him what he needs. All around are doctors watching the operation.

In the background, the artist has painted the large windows that shed light on the surgeon and above all Frédéric Baumgarten, who is standing facing us, watching the proceedings. His is the only face painted so as to be recognisable.

An intern at the Hôpital Saint Louis under Doctor Péan, Frédéric Baumgarten went on to run the Hôpital Français in Mexico until his death in 1910.

Frédéric Baumgarten owned four works by ToulouseLautrec, including a painting from 1893, La Macarona en costume de Jockey, currently in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago ; the two others, La Goulue and Femme de Maison, are in private collections today.

Une opération du docteur Péan à l’Hôpital International, to be offered for sale on 29 June, is the only one of the four to be kept by the doctor’s family until today

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